The challenges of a solo stew

Jan 22, 2013 by Alene Keenan

As a new year begins, I got thinking of new beginnings. One of the most challenging ones in an interior crew’s world is taking a job as a solo stew.

Being the solo stew on a new yacht is exciting and challenging. You finally get to do what you love to do, reinvent yourself, show off all of your talents and be your own boss (for the most part).

On the other hand, there is no one to monitor your behavior and give you friendly reminders to keep up the pace. And you’ll need that, because it’s a big job.

So how do you start?

Everything depends upon what the owner and captain consider your responsibilities to be. Being a solo stew encompasses much more than merely interior service standards and expectations. You will be in charge of organizing your own administration, accounting, and culinary preferences files, as well as scheduling provisioning, cooking and serving, personal services delivery, and housekeeping work.

There are also exterior and deck duties you likely will help with, such as lines and fenders and helping with docking.

When you get down to the basics about your new job, first answer these three key questions:
1. What systems are already in place?
2. What type and level of service do the owners want?
3. What is the schedule for the boat?

Existing systems

The first point to consider is the systems that are in place, including the culinary and housekeeping standards and the general tone of the boat. This is where you discover food and beverage likes and dislikes and the “do’s and don’ts” regarding your work performance.

Is the structure formal and strict, or casual and flexible? The interior goods and furnishings will influence this, depending on how they are used, from china, crystal and silverware to linens and décor. The amount of detail and the time spent taking care of interior goods depends upon how exacting the owners are.

That being said, decide how will you schedule your time to complete all of your duties. There will be tasks and routine maintenance that need to be completed daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. Break it down into categories, and decide which are interior responsibilities, and which are captain/deck responsibilities.

What the owner wants

The next point to consider is learning the type and level of service the owners want. This depends to a large degree on their ability to articulate their needs. With experience, you will discover that certain cues will provide insight about them, including the style of décor and artwork, the china and crystal patterns, their culinary preferences and choice of wines, and their favorite clothing designers.

If the owners have particular standards in general, they may expect a high level of service. However, don’t make the mistake of underserving them just because they do not want gourmet meals three times a day. This is a communication phase that requires a lot of information exchange.

Your service scheduling will be determined mostly by the type of service the owners want. You need to know what time they get up in the morning, how many meals you’ll be expected to cook and/or serve daily, and what time certain tasks must be completed.

The first part of your day will be filled with opening up the boat, preparing and serving breakfast, and cleaning up afterward. Cabin service and general housekeeping is typically next. If there are many detailed items to care for, it will take longer to finish housekeeping duties. If you are going to be needed to help on deck during this time frame, factor that into your schedule, too.

Boat’s schedule

The third consideration is what’s happening with the boat. Will you be moving frequently, or staying at the dock? Will the owners have guests or family onboard? Will crew eat the same food as guests?

Now it is time for menu planning and shopping lists. But before you can even begin that, you must find out the dietary preferences and restrictions of the owners and guests, and what types of cuisine they prefer.

When I was a crew cook, I had a standard set of 20 recipes that I kept pantry items on hand for at all times, so I would only have to purchase fresh produce, meats, and dairy each week. By having options available, I created flexibility within the menu framework. If you plan a week’s worth of meals in advance, you can save lots of time by creating a grocery shopping list within that framework.

One more thought. While you are going through this adjustment period, it is a good idea to be aware of maintaining professional boundaries. You’ll be interacting with the owners regularly and will have to learn to be reserved but friendly without sharing too much personal information. If the owners and/or guests invite you to socialize with them, be conscious about what you say and limit your alcohol around them.

Being a solo stew for the first time can be adventurous, entrepreneurial, and quite challenging, so make the best of this opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and really shine as you begin the new year.

Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stewardess for 20 years. She offers interior crew training classes, workshops, seminars, and onboard training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions ( Comments on this column are welcome at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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